ANTH 281 Seeds of Divinity

Collection of student papers from Antonia Foias' Anthropology course, Seeds of Divinity.


Animal Coessence in The Seeds of Divinity: Naturalism, the Gods, and the Souls
An analysis of three pieces from the upcoming The Seeds of Divinity exhibit at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA). The exhibit includes objects from five Precolumbian Mesoamerican civilizations: the Aztec, Maya, Teotihuacan, Zapotec, and West Mexico/Nayarit.
Communicating with Maya Gods and Ancestors through Architecture
Objects are all around us, just as they were for the Maya. They help provide structure, meaning and functionality to our lives. It is rare that we really see our objects, as opposed to subjecting them to a passing glance. Nevertheless, with time we can look back at the things of the past and give due attention to them, beginning to understand and appreciate them in a way that may not be possible for the things of the present. The first step on that journey is purposeful seeing – noticing without taking for granted.
Communicating with the Deceased: The Meaning and Function of the Standing Dog figure, Standing Male Figure Holding Ball...
The Standing Dog, Standing Male Figure Holding Ball, and Model of House Scene are three among many objects featured in The Seeds of Divinity, an exhibit opening at the Williams College Museum of Art on January 1, 2018. While the exhibition covers five Mesoamerican civilizations – Maya, Teotihuacán, West Mexico, Zapotec, and Aztec – these three mortuary objects all come from West Mexico. In this essay, I want to explore the way that these specific objects embodied the common ideologies shared among the five Mesoamerican civilizations mentioned above, as well as those specific to West Mexico cultures. First, I will give a general overview of the sociopolitical situation, geographic location, and religion (which is informed by ethnographic research of the Huichol Indians) of the ancient West Mexico civilizations, such as the shaft tomb culture (from which our three objects came). Then I will discuss the physical description and style of the three objects. Finally, I will examine the context, meaning and function of the objects.
Face to Face With Divinity in Lacandon God Pots
As part of our Seeds of Divinity exhibit, WCMA is proud to present two Lacandon Maya incense burners (see Figures 1 and 2), preeminently sacred objects with fraught and uncertain histories. A central element in the Lacandon religious practice of offering to and dialogue with the divine, incense burners, also called god pots, are an animate medium through which the Lacandon communicate with their gods. What can these objects tell us about the cosmovision of the people who made them? Currently residing primarily in Chiapas, the Yucatecan-speaking Lacandon have cultural roots that trace back to conquest-period Yucatán. How did they arrive in Chiapas? How do they live and worship? In this essay, I will use the WCMA god pots as a window to delve into the cosmovision of the Lacandon, a people profoundly rooted in the Mesoamerican tradition of direct communion with the gods through offering.
Investigating the Standing Figure, Standing Figurine, and Seated Figurine from Teotihuacan
Prior to this investigation, little was known about the function and meaning of the following three objects from Teotihuacan: the Standing Figure, Standing Figurine, and Seated Figurine. On loan to the Williams College Museum of Art from the Worcester Art Museum, these objects will be displayed in the exhibition ​The​ ​Seeds of Divinity ​alongside many other objects from ancient Mesoamerica, each with their own distinct cultural meaning and background. While the exhibition is an opportunity for the objects to come together as part of a larger conversation about divinity, it is my hope that this paper considers the objects on a more individual, or at least intimate, level. I will first introduce the civilization to which they belong, Teotihuacan, and then present a detailed, observation-based description of their appearance. Then, I will consider their medium, position in time, and production relative to their civilization. Finally, I will discuss their original context, function, and meaning, which will help us to visualize and understand the objects in the same way that they were once understood thousands of years ago: as sacred, animate entities.
Life-Giving Deities and their Human Counterparts: An Exploration into the Aztec Civilization
This paper will provide an overview of the Aztec civilization essential to contextualizing these objects. It will focus on justifying the identification of each object and include descriptions of the meaning of their specific attributes. I contextualize these objects within the broader Aztec civilization, pointing to their function and use and the impact that they have in the lives of pre-Columbian peoples.
Objects of West Mexico: Meaning and Importance
The three objects examined in this paper are called Seated Musician with Rasp, House Scene with Musicians and Dancers, and Ceremonial Village Scene with Flying Figure, all from the Nayarit region of West Mexico. These names were not given by the creator of the pieces, as any such identification has been lost with time. Rather, the names are given by the anthropologists, art historians, or other individuals who research or present these objects. As such, an object’s name is subject to change as understandings of the piece evolve. For example, the original name given to Seated Musician with Rasp was Figure Holding Wrapped Baby. When compared to other similar objects of its time period, however, it becomes clear that the figure is holding a rasp rather than a child. The name of this piece, therefore, has been changed for this exhibit.
Teotihuacan Masks and Figurines
After opening the tomb of the Egyptian King Tutankhamun and removing the pharaoh’s sarcophagus after three-millennia of undisturbed rest, the members of the exploratory team were gripped by a sudden wave of mortality. Rumors of a “curse of the pharaohs” ignited the public imagination and spread like wildfire. Though the myth of the “curse of the pharaohs” has been debunked by the normal lifespans of most team-members, the idea that a long-dead king could wield deadly spiritual powers against the living both captivated and alarmed audiences across the world.
Zapotec Effigy Urns
This paper aims to provide a detailed examination of three artefacts (WCMA 76.29.2.B, WAM 1985.70, YUAG 1973.88.18) featured in the exhibition The Seeds of Divinity, presented by the Williams College Museum of Art from January to August 2018. The physical attributes and symbolic meanings of these objects will be examined in their historical contexts, and the functions they may have served in the societies that created them will be explored. In doing so, this paper hopes to uncover aspects of Pre-Columbian spirituality and worldview through the physical objects they left behind.